WEST SPRINGFIELD – Students at West Springfield High School had the chance to put their physics class lessons to the test on Oct. 30 at the 12th annual Punkin’ Chunkin’ contest.
The teams created slingshots, trebuchets and other machines to launch their respective pumpkins across the practice fields at the middle school.
Physics teacher Howard Bernard began the competition after seeing both a special about medieval siege engines and the World Championship Punkin Chunkin in Delaware. He decided to combine the two.
He hoped the experience would provide students with a way to turn what they have learned in the classroom into a tangible experience.
“I hope they get some fun, but I also hope they get an understanding of engineering and how you combine science, counting, creativity and planning,” Bernard said. “In education we talk a lot about STEM [science, technology, engineering and math], and this, even with the stems of the pumpkins, is really STEM. I’m hoping the kids get a well-rounded experience. We divide subjects up in high school, and this is not divide.”
Phillip Haislip-Hansberry, the Mathematics Department chair at the high school, has supervised the event alongside Bernard and said the students fully immerse themselves into the project every year.
The students had about a month and a strict budget of $75.89 to create their machines. The budget is adjusted each year to match inflation and the cost of living, he said. This helps keep projects comparable from year to year.
Haislip-Hansberry said it is a “huge” factor in the final product.
“They are very excited about this,” he said. “They get frustrated; there’s no question. Some of them are ready to be done with this.”
Despite the hard work and occasional frustration Haislip-Hansberry said above all it is a chance for the students to create something.
“You can do paper and pencil work, but if you don’t go to the actual design and trial phase … It’s so different than bookwork,” he said.
The longest shot of the day was a 83 feet, and though teams were separated by categories according to their machine – slingshot, catapult, trebuchet or rotary – the team with the furthest overall distance gets “bragging rights,” Bernard said.
Although distances were not as long as they have been in previous years, Bernard said the farthest he has seen was 475 feet in 2006.